By REED NELSON
Check the water in Los Angeles, something fishy is going on.
The two schools that call the City of Angels home had a sunny first two weeks of this 2012 season, they were armed with legitimate Heisman contenders, and their coaches, while brash, appeared to be the cool, Mickey Rourke chugging the Sugar in Diner kind-of-brash.
But since USC lost to Stanford, things have gotten decidedly smoggier. Lane Kiffin balked when reporters asked him questions about injured Trojans last week, leaving his post-practice press scrum after just 29 seconds and two questions.
Yesterday, Jim Mora Jr. did his best NSA impression, locking down practice just minutes in. No media members were allowed for the rest of the workout.
Sure, things have gotten testy between coaches and media elsewhere in the NCAA this week regarding injuries (most notably Mark Dantonio’s “Next Question” routine and Steve Spurrier’s rebooted feud with columnist Ron Morris), and Arkansas head coach John L. Smith could use a little bit of happiness in his life, but those in Los Angeles were unique in their combination of brevity and vagueness and their seemingly target-less nature.
Since Kiffin tried to strip LA Times reporter Scott Wolf’s credentials for last week’s Cal game (and banned him from practice for two weeks) in an attempt to keep him from writing on injuries, the paper has defiantly stopped covering the team and their cross town rivals, UCLA.
Both coaches have been irked by injury-related questions the past few weeks, and seem to want to keep mum, a la Chip Kelly. And considering that the Pac-12 doesn’t have a mandatory injury report, their reluctance to disclose information is understandable.
Given the profile of their programs, however, their behavior is not. Reporters have an obligation to satisfy the insatiable masses (many are gamblers, like myself, in which case things like injuries matter. A lot.) with information, so their actions are to be expected.
Kiffin’s childish antics have long been excused for a variety of reasons — he’s young, Al Davis was crazy, his dad casts an imposing shadow, he’s young, he’s young, his wife recently gave birth to a unicorn that has been a “total pain” to take care of, he has recently taken a keen interest in the Space Program reboot, his kids are Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, he’s rumored to be Bruce Willis’ sidekick in the newest Die Hard — but at this point, to paraphrase Chris Rock, maybe he’s just plain crazy.
He has it together about half of the time. The other half, he directs one of the weirdest shows in college football. He’s shielded Matt Barkley from the press the past two weeks, but given Kiffin’s track record, I’d chalk that up to coincidence more than intentional, Billy Martin-esque diversion tactics.
Mora’s actions were even stranger. He handled losing to Oregon State in the same way you would imagine a child would handle getting reprimanded by its parents. He ran to his room and locked his door.
He could have just been paranoid (not good), cautious (better), or the press could actually be in his head (Worst option. He coaches in L.A. Whether people there care or not doesn’t change the coverage, or the criticism.).
It’s no Chinatown replay, but L.A. is uneasy.